When We Return featured on this blog when it was on a Great Escapes tour earlier this summer. I couldn’t read it in time for a review then, but I have now.

when we return

When We Return

by Eliana Tobias

Who should be held responsible for public wrongs?

By 2008, it finally seems that the Peruvian government is ready to make amends to its citizens following the violent guerilla movement of the last three decades.

Otilia and Salvador, a mother and son torn apart during the conflict and separated for twenty years, are eager for the government to acknowledge their pain and suffering, but they hit a roadblock when the government denies responsibility in their legal case.

Things begin to look up when Otilia meets Jerry, a kind man and the son of Jewish parents who escaped the Holocaust. Grappling with his own upbringing and the psychological struggles his parents endured, Jerry is just the person to empathize with Otilia’s situation. Together, Otilia, Jerry, and Salvador must support one another through the turbulent journey that is healing from historical trauma, and through it, they must find the courage to rebuild their lives and open themselves up to love and companionship.

Artfully weaving together different timelines and countries, Tobias examines the nuanced topic of grief a community endures after a collective tragedy. In this exploration of the culture of remembrance following displacement and loss, we discover what happens when our past calls us back to what we must do to achieve justice and reconciliation when we return.(goodreads)

My Review

As you might expect from the tagline ‘Who should be held responsible for public wrongs?’, this is a thought-provoking book.

When We Return is written in a distant third person omniscient, to the extent it often feels like a journalist’s account. That in turn helps the reader maintain some sort of distance from the real agonies of separation that afflict most of the protagonists. It also provides space for your own thoughts and opinions on the subject matter, allowing you to connect with your own experiences, however third hand.

The scenes shift between the experiences of Miles, a holocaust avoider, and his horrific journey out of Poland to the relative safety of Peru. He starts to rebuild his life from scratch, a reminder to anyone who reads about refugees that these people were ‘someone’ in their communities before everything went horribly wrong for them – through no fault of their own. Wrong place, wrong time. Otilia has fled Peru to the relative safety of the USA , a little later than Miles – who eventually does the same, to escape the totalitarian government and the rebels creating utter mayhem in the opposite direction. Although that is the enabling background, the root is really the greed of Otilia’s extended family and the failure of local officials to apply the law. It’s complicated, as these things usually are.

Complex questions

Complex is a better word for the answer to the author’s question. How far do you go back to right wrongs, to create reparation? I well remember a tour of Krakow’s Jewish quarter: my host (a professor at the University) explained the difficulties when someone comes back to say this apartment or those properties belonged to my family and were stolen by the Nazis. Those apartments are now lived in by local families, who have made their own payments for the right to live there. And a growing issue in the UK (in among many other self-inflicted problems) is what to do about reparation for our involvement in the slave trade, and all the other wealth gained by the first world – on the backs of the resources and hard work of what is seen as the third world.

In creating this novel, Eliana Tobias manages to untangle several valid and worthy stories, where people have had wrongs done to them, but where reparations may or may not be forthcoming. Where do you draw the line? What is fair? How can people come to terms with their treatment at the hands of those in power, however long ago.

This is an excellent novel, with a more or less satisfactory ending for all. But it will live with you long after you’ve finished.

Book Review | When We Return by Eliana Tobias. Where do you draw the line? What is fair? This book will live with you long after you've finished. #refugee #justice #holocaust #shiningpath #WhenWeReturn #netgalley Share on X

Book Review | When We Return by Eliana Tobias
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4 thoughts on “Book Review | When We Return by Eliana Tobias

  • 13 August, 2022 at 2:20 pm

    Wonderful Review. Interesting bit about complex questions.

  • 13 August, 2022 at 4:06 pm

    Great review. This sounds like a very provocative book on many levels!

  • 19 August, 2022 at 5:50 pm

    Sounds like a good and challenging read. One of these day’s I’ll be up for challenging novels again.

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